Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire

Ditchley Park

A private tour of Ditchley Park enabled us to study its fine eighteenth-century architecture and parkland surrounded by the rolling Oxfordshire countryside.

Elizabeth 1 famously visited Ditchley but the existing house is best known as the home of Ronald and Nancy Tree who frequently entertained Winston Churchill and members of the War Cabinet during the Second World War. Since the early 1960s the Ditchley Foundation has existed to foster Anglo-American relations.

Visit to two important Warwickshire houses:

Arbury Hall and Maxstoke Castle

Salon at Arbury Hall

Arbury Hall

We visited two contrasting Warwickshire houses: the Elizabethan Arbury Hall, which was transformed in the second half of the 18th century by Sir Roger Newdigate into a remarkable example of early Gothic revival architecture.

Maxstoke Castle
Maxstoke Castle

The second half of our day was spent at Maxstoke Castle, an example of a 14th century moated and fortified manor house.  This was by kind permission of the Fetherston-Dilke family in whose ownership Maxstoke has remained for 400 years.

Apple Workshop

iPad, iPhone and Laptop

We held three days of workshops, run by Col. Tony Singer, designed to increase everyone’s ability to get the most from their iPads and iPhones. He covered an  enormous amount of ground which instilled a new confidence to experiment with these clever devices.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett – Acclaimed author and critic

Lucy Hughes-Hallet and her book The Pike

Lucy Hughes-Hallett gave a talk on her book, The Pike, Gabriele D’Annunzio, which has been one of BBC Radio 4’s book of the week.  It is a biography in which an appetite for sex and beautiful things is juxtaposed with warfare and deadly politics.

There is a delightful postscript to Lucy’s talk. Exactly a week afterwards, it was announced that Lucy was the winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2013 for her book, The Pike.   Shortly afterwards it also won the Costa Biography Award and the Pol Roger Duff Cooper Prize which celebrates the best in non-fiction writing.

Catherine Bailey

Catherine Bailey and her book Black Diamonds

Catherine Bailey gave a talk about her best selling book Black Diamonds, the story of the Fitzwilliam family of Wentworth Woodhouse, who made their fortune from coal.  Catherine also talked about her latest book Secret Rooms, which explains the mysterious death of the 9th Duke of Rutland in 1940.  He died in a murky room next to the servants’ quarters at his family home, Belvoir Castle, a dark history kept hidden for over 60 years.

The Reverend Richard Coles

Reverend Richard Coles

The Reverend Richard Coles, musician, journalist and Church of England priest gave a talk entitled ‘Servant of two Masters?  Trying to be a Christian in the Church and in the Media’.

Richard is parish priest of St. Mary the Virigin, Finedon and presenter of the Radio 4 programme Saturday Live.  In the 1980’s he partnered Jimmy Sommerville in the band The Communards, which achieved three top ten hits, including the No. 1 record and best selling single of 1986 ‘Don’t leave me this way’.

Kiftsgate Court

Kiftsgate Court
World-famous garden

Anne Chambers, together with her husband Johnny, gave us an inspiring tour of Kiftsgate, the world-renowned garden, spectacularly set on the edge of the Cotswold escarpment.  The garden is famed for its eponymous rose.  It is the work of three generations of women gardeners.  The garden was created by Heather Muir in the 1920’s, continued by her daughter, Diana Binny, in the 1950’s and is now looked after by her granddaughter, Anne Chambers.

The Roubiliac Monuments, Warkton & The 18th Century Gardens of Boughton House

Roubiliac monument in Warkton Church

Dr. Phillip Lindley, Reader in Art History at Leicester University, showed us the extraordinary beauty of the Buccleuch monuments in Warkton church and revealed the unusual history behind the church’s architecture.  Afterwards, we went to Boughton House where Dr. Lindley described the development and huge scale of the 18th century gardens which now lie ‘fossilised’ under the grass.

Elton Hall

Elton Hall and Gardens

Lady Proby showed us over Elton Hall.  The present building dates back to the 15th century and contains many treasures, including fine paintings, china and furniture.  Its library of around 12,000 books is one of the finest private collections in the country and contains some particularly precious Prayer Books and Bibles some of which were on display in an exhibition illustrating the history of the Bible from Wycliffe’s 14th-century translation to the glory of the King James Bible in 1611.

Stanway House

Stanway House and gardens
We visited Stanway House, a glorious example of a Jacobean manor house.  It retains much of the fascinating furniture made specifically for the house.  The crowning glory of Stanway are the baroque water gardens.  The most spectacular feature is the single jet fountain, the tallest in Britain, which also has the distinction of being the tallest gravity driven fountain in the world.

Aynhoe Park, Northamptonshire

Aynhoe Park
We took a group to Aynhoe Park, a neo-Palladian house which has had the unusual good fortune to have been converted back into a private house by James Perkins having been, for many years, divided up into retirement flats.  The house makes a splendid backdrop for his unique collection of sculpture, both old and modern, as well as collections of antique taxidermy and plaster casts.  The 250-acre park was designed by Capability Brown.

Jeremy Musson

Jeremy Musson

Jeremy Musson gave a talk with the theme ‘Creating the private paradise, with reflections on behind the scenes in country houses’.  He has written many books, his latest being ‘English Country House Interiors’ and he was the Architectural Editor of Country Life for nearly ten years.  He is also a journalist, broadcaster, lecturer and recently has co-written and presented fourteen programmes of the Curious House Guest series for BBC 2, celebrating country houses today.

A Visit to Weston Hall in Northamptonshire

Edith Sitwell
Continuing the ‘Sitwell’ theme, we took a group to Weston Hall, Northamptonshire where we were shown round by Susanna Sitwell, Sir Sacheverell’s daughter-in-law, and her son, William.  They explained the intricacies of the family history and showed us the many important paintings and pieces of furniture in this fascinating house. We also saw some of Dame Edith’s exotic clothes.

After a picnic lunch in the garden we visited Plumpton church, a small Georgian country church which is in the interesting position of being owned by a private trust.  Sir John Greenaway, a founding member of the trust, gave a talk on the interior and its history.

An Evening with Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Lucy Hughes-Hallet
Lucy Hughes-Hallett the award winning author and critic spoke on the cult of the celebrity.  She discussed how the manipulation of news for purposes of propaganda and the use of famous figures to sell merchandise may seem peculiar to the age of modern mass media, but in fact this has been part of our culture for centuries.

Lucy has written widely on literature, art and theatre, winning the Catherine Pakenham Award for journalism and the Fawcett Prize for her book on Cleopatra.  She was television critic of the Evening Standard for seven years.  Lucy has been a Judge of the W.H. Smith Literary Award and she reviews regularly for the Sunday Times Books section.

An Evening with Adam Zamoyski

Adam Zamoyski
Adam Zamoyski based his lively and amusing talk Comedy, Error and Sex in the making of history on three of his books Holy Madness; Rites of Peace and 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow.  He explored the ways in which erroneous assumptions, cultural prejudice, misunderstandings, jealousy, spite and sex affected the outcome of seminal events which we assume to be the result of deliberate policy and reasoned decisions.

A best selling author and award-winning historian, Adam has published acclaimed books on key figures and aspects of European and world history.  He is also a distinguished commentator and reviewer and has contributed to all the major British papers and periodicals.  He has lectured widely in England, Europe and the United States.

Kevin Crossley-Holland

Kevin Crossley-Holland
Kevin Crossley-Holland, award-winning author, poet and librettist, came to talk about his autobiography, The Hidden Roads, A Memoir of Childhood, some of his own poems, many of which capture the North Norfolk coast which is now his home.  “A lovely poignant book, not wasting a word and evoking place in a deep way.” Archbishop Rowan Williams reviewing The Hidden Roads.

Kevin Crossley-Holland won the Carnegie Medal for Storm, a ghost story set on the North Norfolk coast.  His best-selling Arthur trilogy has now been translated into 24 languages and sold well over one million copies. The first volume, The Seeing Stone, won the Guardian Childrens’ Fiction Prize.  Kevin is also a writer on Norse Mythology as well as being an acclaimed translator of the greatest surviving Anglo-Saxon poems, his translation of Beowulf receiving particular praise.

Wentworth Woodhouse

A visit was arranged to the magnificent follies of The Hoober Stand, Needles Eye and the Mausoleum all lying within the historic Humphrey Repton parkland of Wentworth Woodhouse.  The house itself has the longest façade of any private house in Europe and we were able to view its East Front designed by Henry Flitcroft and also the Stables designed by John Carr on a scale to match the House.  There was also a private visit to the Fitzwilliam family vault in the Old Church at Wentworth.

A Visit to Renishaw Hall

Renishaw Hall
Renishaw proved a fascinating house to visit which has been lived in by Sitwells since it was built in 1625.  In recent decades it has become famous through the writing of Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell.  There was a very interesting tour of the house with its magnificent collection of works of art, followed by the inspirational Renishaw gardens created by Sir George Sitwell and added to greatly in recent years by Sir Reresby Sitwell.

A Talk by William Sitwell

William Sitwell

William Sitwell, with his enthusiasm for his family history, and in particular for his grandfather, Sir Sacheverell, and his great uncle and great aunt, Sir Osbert and Dame Edith Sitwell, gave a fascinating and humorous talk.

William is an award-winning editor, broadcaster and writer, and a key figure in the food world.  He is a frequent guest and presenter on television.  A leading writer on food for the Daily Mail, he also contributes regularly to the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, as well as having previously worked on The Times and The Sunday Express.  He is currently editor of the popular food magazine Waitrose Kitchen.

Anne Perkins

Anne Perkins
Anne Perkins spoke on her book, A Very British Strike.  The 1926 General Strike has haunting parallels with the current day.  What should a Government do when it fears that its fundamental values and even its very existence are threatened by a sector of its own society prepared to use violence?  This was the case in 1926 when King George V had retreated to Windsor lest he should suffer the fate of his cousin Czar Nicholas, and Winston Churchill ordered tanks into the docks.  Nevertheless within nine days a supposed revolution had been averted.

Anne Perkins has been a political correspondent for the BBC, Channel Four news and more recently the Guardian.  She has also presented political programmes and documentaries for radio and television.  Anne has published biographies of Barbara Castle and of Stanley Baldwin as well as an account of the General Strike.  “Anne Perkins shows how formidable a historian a good journalist can be”  (The Daily Telegraph review).